Generic Values = Generic Culture

Most companies have a set of values. Most of these stated values are generic and quite frankly, meaningless.

Take this test. Pull out a copy of your organization’s values – remove your company name and logo from it. Replace it with another company name. Does it work for them? Could it apply to that company? If so, then your company values are not distinct enough to have meaning and value. A company like a person needs to have unique values similar to your personal values which cannot easily be shared by anyone else. This is important because the culture of your company is a reflection of what the company values – it guides employee behavior and decision making. The more generic the values, the more difficult it is for employees to know what to do or how to represent the company that is in alignment with the culture.

 For example, here are the values of a company:

Communication – We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another… and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

Respect – We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment.

Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, then we won’t do it.

Excellence– We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

These values sound good. Communication. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. These could be taken straight from those inspirational posters from the 80s (and we still see on many corporate walls), like “Teamwork” along with the picture of people all rowing in the same direction. These values could possibly apply to your company and many others – and that’s the issue.

The values above are from Enron as stated in their 2000 annual report (page 53). At its height, Enron employed nearly 22,000 people, was one of the largest energy companies in the world, and was named “America’s most innovative companies” for six consecutive years by Fortune magazine. The company went bankrupt and executives were sent to prison, as they were found to be involved in corporate corruption and accounting fraud, which further led to the dissolution of their auditing firm, Arthur Andersen. Their culture did not reflect their values.

 Another example:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service

  • Embrace and Drive Change

  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

  • Pursue Growth and Learning

  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

  • Do More With Less

  • Be Passionate and Determined

  • Be Humble

Many of you may have guessed who this is by the very first line of “Deliver WOW Through Service” – it’s Zappos. You would be hard pressed to apply these values as a whole to any other company. They are unique, well thought out, and truly reflect the culture of their company. They also drive decision making and corporate strategy, as a result, this is their brand.

Unique values are important – but that’s not enough.

Which brings us to the second important point of ensuring your company has unique values – they must be applied. No matter how prominently your values are communicated or placed in big lettering on a wall for all to see – if they are not used as a guide and applied to every important decision your company makes, then it was a waste of time to even have had them developed. It’s akin to spending time and money on a lot of research or strategic planning, to only have this nice binder sit on a shelf gathering dust.

Even a great mission and vision statement are not enough. They are important in helping everyone understand why they do what they do and where it will take them. The values are about how it will get done. Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s clear. But how are they going to work together to achieve that mission? That’s where their values come in. They have defined it as the “ten things we know to be true” which include:

  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well

  • Fast is better than slow

  • You can make money without doing evil

  • You can be serious without a suit

  • Great just isn’t good enough


Unique and authentic values that are lived are fundamental to a strong and distinguished brand and will help attract and retain the type of talent that is valued in your organization.

Is the culture of your company what you want it to be? Do your employees know what to do when a challenge arises or an important decision needs to be made without having to look it up in a handbook or convening a meeting? If not, it may be time to rethink what your company values and incorporate them into how work gets done.

What Does Your Brand Sound Like?

Your brand platform defines your brand – the personality, tone, voice, mission, vision, and other defining elements. Your logo and visual style are an expression of your brand. But does your brand have a sound?

Sonic Sound

MasterCard recently announced a brand update that includes their sonic sound. Not only did they introduce their sonic brand, it is replacing their name on their logo. According to MasterCard it is the sonic equivalent of their iconic red and yellow intersecting circles. Not sure how they figured that out or can hear their logo, but we trust they paid a boatload for that insight.

So why would they invest so much into the evolution of their brand? Look no further than the report recently released by OC&C Strategy Consultants that predicts voice shopping will reach $40 billion in 2022, from $2 billion today just in the U.S. and UK. This is being driven by the rapidly and seemingly viral spread of smart-speaker technology in our homes which offers consumers new ways to shop for what they want when they want it (and that is a trend that will never change).

Should your company be investing in a sound?

No doubt, agencies everywhere will soon be looking to hire aural designers to complement their stable of visual artists. If you are a retailer in particular, it may be worth investigating this further. 

But before you jump on the sound bandwagon (pun was not actually intended, but it works well here), first ensure you have your foundation firmly established with a solid brand platform and only then venture into how to best express your company across all the various types of media whether that is your visual or sound expression.

Branding For Nonprofits

Applying for-profit marketing models to the nonprofit sector demonstrates a lack of understanding on what makes a nonprofit unique.

 Many nonprofits continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion. However, as nonprofits are realizing the benefits of having a strong brand image, agencies often rush in applying for-profit models and end up with less than effective outcomes as a result. 

Your brand is what you stand for. A brand is more than just your logo or other graphics used by an organization. A brand is the perceptions of all the constituents that are aware of your services, people, or movement. Brand management is the work of managing these opinions. In the for-profit world, marketing professionals talk of creating “a total brand experience.” In the nonprofit world, the conversation should be more about their identity, what their organization stands for and the impact they are having. Your brand ultimately is a reflection of what your organization represents and believes. 

3 Important Points. There are important differences and nuances between for and not for profit organizations that go beyond fiscal management or categorization. There is a deep source of pride that nonprofit leaders and their teams have in what they do—pride in the social mission, participatory processes, shared values, and key partnerships. For agencies to be effective in working with nonprofits, they must:

  1.  Take the time to understand and align marketing decisions with the mission and values of the organization. Join and volunteer with the organization if possible. 
  2. Look at the big picture and work to develop or enhance their brand to align with their long term vision. Nonprofits are not driven by quarterly income/earnings results. Yes, they should have clear metrics in place, but often a nonprofit has a greater long term vision that may take years or decades to achieve.
  3. Be sensitive in understanding the balance needed to raise money while staying true to the cause – balancing and respecting both mission and margin. Sometimes the right thing to do is not necessarily what will generate more revenue or increase membership.

Taking a thoughtful approach to nonprofit marketing requires more than just having an understanding of their purpose.  Closely listening to the voice of all the stakeholders and leveraging the passion of the team is a key to developing marketing strategies that are just as bold as the vision of the organization.


"I Want More Sales" Is Not A Plan - 5 Things You Should Be Doing


Clients will often tell us “I want more sales” when asked for their marketing objectives. Wow!  Who knew? Unfortunately, this is an all too common response. 

 Sales are an outcome of activities. Activities or tactics informed by having a clear business objective, supported by a strategy.

 The increasing complexity of marketing due to more informed and demanding consumers and exponential growth in channels, data, and content, causes many marketers to throw their hands up in exasperation on how to formulate that strategy. At which point, when pressed on what to do, it is not surprising to hear about just wanting to get results – give me more sales!

 So what are marketers and agencies that support these clients supposed to do? The answers have not changed, and there is no need to reinvent the well-established principles of marketing. The advent of digital and social media only amplifies the need for a company to truly understand their target audience and ensure they are authentic in how they deliver on their value proposition. Focus on the fundamentals: 

1.     Have a clearly defined objective. You can’t hit what you are not aiming for. An objective is a clearly articulated measurable outcome (e.g., A 5% increase in a our new product line within 1 year).  Each objective needs to have a plan. We are not marketing for marketing’s sake. If the investment your company is making in marketing is not supporting the overall objective of the business, then you are wasting your money. This requires every marketer to establish measures on how to assess the impact of the marketing investment.

2.     Do your homework. Hope is not a strategy. Once you establish the objective, conduct a classic gap analysis. What do you know, what don’t you know (that you need) and how are you going to get the insights? What is your competition doing? What are the trends in your industry? Data is not enough – use your data to develop insights, which in turn can guide your marketing strategy. 

3.     Know your target audience. This is arguably the most important component of any marketing strategy. Too often, especially in a B2B company, there is this notion of having developed the most awesome product or service – and when we tell the world, they will just flock to us. The question to ask is, how will what you are offering to your target audience improve their lives? Know them. Know how they think. Know how they feel and act when something triggers a need for a product or service. A “build it, and they will come” approach rarely, if ever, works.

4.     Know your brand. Authenticity is key. It comes down to the basic virtue of doing what you say. Has your company established a clear and inspiring vision and mission? What is your value proposition – what are your customers going to get in exchange for their time and money, and what are your employees expected to deliver on a consistent basis? Taking it a step further, when is the last time you reviewed your company values and how they were being applied?  

5.     Create great experiences. If you know your customers and you consistently express your brand, that is the key to both attracting and engaging your target audience – leading to the sales. However, creating awareness and even an initial trial is not sufficient. The traditional marketing funnel model has evolved into an ongoing fluid journey. We live our lives with needs and wants and endless distractions while being bombarded with brands constantly.  But if the right message intercepts us through channels we use and aligns with what we believe will make our lives better, we will take the time and energy to consider what you are offering.  And, hopefully share our experience with others and come back for more.

So, when things get crazy or somewhat overly complicated, go back and focus on the basics. Never forget who your customer is, be true to your brand, and create great experiences.

How Strong Is Your Employer Brand?

Attracting and keeping top talent is one of the biggest challenges for most companies. In a recent study by the National Center for the Middle Market, staffing is the number one issue these companies have as they look forward over the next 12 months. Harris Allied’s Tech Hiring & Retention survey similarly found (for the 4th straight year) that hiring top talent was the number one concern for tech companies. 

Over 60% of CEO’s interviewed in a Harvard Business Review study stated that talent related issues were their top concern.

So, if you want to attract the top talent, what do you think these prospective employees think about your company? What is your company’s reputation or Employer Brand? Even though the term Employer Brand was coined in the 1990’s, few companies are doing an effective job at managing a unified brand – a brand platform that is universally applied internally as well as externally.

The same brand management principles applied to your customers, such as being authentic, consistent, and having a clear value proposition, need to be applied internally. Yet, companies often struggle with developing a unified brand.

Only Going To Get Harder

The changing employee landscape is only going to increase the need to be clearer about what it means to work at your company. The rise of social media and entrance of millennials not only into the mainstream workforce, but increasingly holding senior level positions, is transforming companies and sometimes forcing them to become more transparent, whether they like it or not. 

What it’s like to truly work in a company is an important consideration for any prospective employee, and easy to find out.  Just as companies increasingly use social media in the hiring process, prospective employees are using sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and profiles on The Muse to get a sense of what a company culture is really like as they conduct their due diligence.

Internal Brand Management

When companies think about their brand, they often focus on the external facing element of how customers perceive their brand. However, that is only part of what it takes to effectively manage your brand. In a similar fashion to how a company has a value proposition for its customers (or why should I give you my money and time), a company needs to develop and apply a clear value proposition for their employees.

The good news is that a company doesn’t need to rebrand themselves or put any extra time and effort in redefining their brand – they just need to ensure that they apply the same brand management principles internally as they do externally. 

Authenticity is key to attracting and keeping top employees as much as it is to finding and keeping customers.


Things To Do

·      Start with the basics and find out how well your employees understand your company’s mission, vision, and most importantly, values. How well are new employees on-boarded and how well do current employees live the brand?

·      Does your company have an employee value proposition? If not – think about what image your company wants to portray externally as a place to work. Also consider what your company needs to do to help promote that image. Social media is not only critical in these efforts, but should be a mandatory tool to help promote your Employer Brand.

·      Investigate how well your employees make value-based decisions. In other words, if one of your top values is putting the client first, how is this value applied in every interaction with your customers? Or if work/life balance is a value, what is your company doing to communicate and manage to this value?  If your values are fully incorporated into how your employees work every day, they shouldn’t have to pull out an employee handbook to figure out what to do. It will be instinctual, because, “this is just how we do things around here.”

·      Don’t leave this responsibility solely in the hands of the HR team. It’s important that defining the Employer Brand begins with the CEO and is just as much a responsibility for the leaders of the organization and marketing as it is for HR.

At the end of the day, having a clear employee value proposition is just plain good for business. 

It should be a no brainer that attracting and keeping top talent will only lead to better financial results in the long term. The Middle Market study, further showed that companies with a clear employee value proposition had nearly a 3:1 top line revenue performance difference compared to companies that didn’t have one. 

And finally, it will only strengthen your brand overall. When your employees understand your brand, and if your brand is consistently applied internally as well as externally, employees will deliver upon your mission, vision, and values in every interaction with your customers. It’s simply a win for everyone and worth every effort required to make it happen.